Any time of year they make big news when spotted. After all, black bears are impressive creatures, with an adult black bear ranging in size from 150 to 600 pounds or more. Bears are powerful animals and extremely agile for their size. For the most part they are nocturnal, however over the past several weeks these creatures of the wild have been making a lot of news.
Black bear sightings are relatively common this time of year with mating season taking place from early June until mid-July. The gestation period for females is about seven to seven and a half months. Birth takes place from late December to early February when the female is in her den. Litter sizes range from one to five cubs, three being the average.
The sow nurses the cubs in the den, and in about 60 days after birth the young begin to walk. After about three months they leave the den and are weaned by seven months. Those same cubs generally remain with their mother throughout the summer and fall then den with her for their first winter. Come spring the mentored cubs will disperse and be out on their own.
Since the mothering process for black bears is extensive, mature females generally have only one litter every two years. Most female black bears breed after reaching 2 to 3½ years of age.
Black bears are opportunistic and have a keen sense of smell. However their vision is poor and their hearing is considered average. Black bears are very intelligent and learn quickly.
A black bear’s diet is primarily vegetarian. Common foods include berries, mast crops, succulent leaves, and grasses. They also seek out insects, plant roots, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, fish, carrion, and garbage.
Bears are big animals and they require a lot of food to keep them going. Cubs have appetites likened to a teenager.
This time of year black bears are constantly on the move in search of food which contributes to an increased number of sightings of bears this time of year.
As black bears find themselves in closer proximity to humans, it’s tempting to offer them a handout. After all, the cute bears are so much fun to watch. But that’s when serious problems can begin.
Bears don’t understand that sometimes they are provided food and then sometimes the handouts disappear. They don’t understand where the goodies went. Under these conditions bears will not hesitate to investigate a residence or camp looking for sources of food.
Black bear sightings throughout the region are common this time of year, but there are ways to reduce conflicts between man and bear.
First keep garbage cleaned up. Bears love trash. Also leftover pet food is another attractant. Campers, hikers and picnickers and their food will attract bears. When camping, keep food stored in airtight containers or coolers with a latch. Grease generated at barbecue grills along with food scraps should be cleaned up and disposed of.
Bear confrontations can happen. This is especially true with the kickoff of the camping and vacation season. When this occurs, shout at the bear, wave your arms, and slowly retreat. Keep in mind that bears are large and powerful animals and should be treated with the utmost of respect.
Black bears can be safely observed, at a distance. Bears should not be tempted to approach closer, especially with food. Refrain from approaching the animal in any manner.
Keep in mind that black bears are quick and can run at speeds up to thirty miles an hour for a short distance. That being said, regardless of how fast you may be able to run, there’s little chance you’ll outpace a black bear.
It is important to remember that a mother bear will protect her young. If a sow is seen and appears to be alone, that might not always be the case. Her cubs could be close at hand, and she will exhibit an aggressive stance if she feels her young are in danger.
If a situation such as this occurs, again retreat in a slow and deliberate manner. Be aware of your surroundings and make sure you do not retreat placing yourself between the sow and her cubs.
Black bears are impressive and provide unique entertainment when viewed and enjoyed in a safe manner. Simply put, when you see a black bear, use a good dose of common sense and enjoy the opportunity to observe one of nature’s most powerful but gentle creatures.
Pennsylvania’s black bear population has been on the increase over the past two and a half decades. It is estimated that currently the bear population is approaching 19,000 animals.
This past fall (2017) hunters harvested 3,431 bears. A record bear harvest was set in 2011, when hunters took 4,350 bears. In 2005, hunters harvested 4,164 bears, which was the second highest in history.
Black Bear numbers have increased substantially in Pennsylvania, from around 4,000 in the 1970s to just over 20,000 today.
This dramatic growth has provided more opportunities to see bears, which in itself provides a memory that will last a lifetime.
At the same time bear hunting has greatly improved. The seven top harvests all have occurred since 2005.
Of the 3,431 black bears harvested across the state, a respectable number were taken across the region. McKean (86), Warren (109), Potter (161), Forest (35), Elk (72), Cameron (52), Tioga (213), Clinton (153), Jefferson (55), and Clearfield (66).
Hunters play an important role in managing the black bear resource by working with game managers to keep the black bear population in balance with the habitat we share.
Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net